How to Diagnose and Treat Oral Gonorrhea

Also called pharyngeal gonorrhea

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Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause infections in the genital area, rectum, and throat.

When gonorrhea affects the throat, it is also called pharyngeal gonorrhea.

Learn more about the symptoms of oral gonorrhea, risk factors, treatment options, side effects, and prevention strategies in this article.

Gonorrhea

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Symptoms

Not everyone who contracts gonorrhea will experience symptoms.

Roughly 1 in every 10 men with gonorrhea won't experience symptoms, and 5 in 10 women living with gonorrhea won't experience symptoms.

Typically, gonorrhea in the throat doesn't cause any symptoms.

In some cases, gonorrhea in the mouth may cause symptoms like:

  • Sore throat
  • Burning sensation in the throat
  • Swollen glands
  • White spots in the mouth

If gonorrhea is also present in other areas of the body—like the genitals or rectum—symptoms for women may include:

  • Painful urination
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Bleeding following sex
  • Heavier periods
  • Pain in the lower abdomen

Symptoms in men may include:

  • A white, yellow, or green discharge from the tip of the penis
  • Swollen foreskin
  • Painful urination
  • Pain in the testicles (though this rarely happens)

Who Is at Risk?

Any sexually active person who has unprotected sex (also referred to as condomless sex) is at risk of contracting gonorrhea.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises sexually active men who are gay or bisexual should get tested for gonorrhea at least once per year.

Sexually active women should get tested every year if they are:

  • Younger than 25
  • 25 and older but have risk factors like a sex partner who has an STI, a new partner, or multiple partners

Oral gonorrhea can be spread through oral sex.

This includes oral sex to the penis (called fellatio), the vagina (cunnilingus), and the anus (anilingus).

Risk on Contracting Oral Gonorrhea

The risk of contracting gonorrhea in the throat from oral sex can occur in a variety of scenarios. These may include:

  • Giving oral sex to a person who has an infected vagina or urinary tract
  • Giving oral sex to a person with an infected penis
  • Giving oral sex to a person with an infected rectum

Diagnosis

Misdiagnosis

Symptoms of gonorrhea may be mistaken for a bladder infection or infection in the vagina.

Diagnosing gonorrhea involves lab tests.

If testing for gonorrhea of the mouth specifically, a culture test is used.

Testing for gonorrhea more generally involves a different testing procedure for men and women:

  • For women, the test involves a healthcare provider taking a sample from the cervix.
  • For men, testing for gonorrhea involves a healthcare provider taking a swab from the urethra.

Urine tests may also be offered.

In some cases, a healthcare provider may also order tests for other STIs like chlamydia or syphilis.

Treatment

Treatment for gonorrhea first requires an accurate diagnosis, which involves lab tests.

Difficulty Treating Gonorrhea

Treating gonorrhea is becoming more difficult due to the rising number of strains of gonorrhea that are resistant to antibiotics.

Treatment usually involves antibiotics. This is typically given as a single injection in the thigh or buttocks.

Symptoms will often improve within a few days of treatment, however, pain in the pelvis or testicles may take two weeks to resolve.

For women who experience bleeding between periods or heavier periods as a result of gonorrhea, this should resolve with treatment by the time of the next period.

Side Effects If Left Untreated

If left untreated, gonorrhea in the throat can lead to other issues. This includes:

  • Disseminated gonococcal infection. This is when the infection spreads in the body and may cause pain in the joints or a rash.
  • Heart infection
  • transmitted to other sex partners

A person without gonorrhea can contract the infection by receiving oral sex from someone living with this STI.

This may occur in a number of scenarios:

  • Receiving oral sex on the penis from someone with a gonorrhea infection in the throat can cause gonorrhea in the penis
  • Receiving oral sex on the anus from someone with a gonorrhea infection in the throat may cause an infection in the rectum
  • Receiving oral sex on the vagina from someone with gonorrhea in the throat may cause gonorrhea either in the vagina or the urinary tract

Telling a Sexual Partner About a Gonorrhea Diagnosis


If you don't feel comfortable telling a sexual partner directly, services like Partner Notification Services may help.

This program works with local and state health departments and helps find and notify partners to anonymously advise them of their exposure to STIs. They then help provide testing and referrals to other services.

You can learn more about the program, including how to contact your local health department, here.

Prevention

The only way to completely avoid contracting gonorrhea anywhere in the body is to not have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Also, it's important to note that gonorrhea can also be transmitted through sharing sex toys.

If sexually active, ways to lower the risk of contracting gonorrhea include:

  • Using condoms correctly every time you have sex, whether vaginal, oral, or anal
  • Being in a mutually monogamous, long-term relationship with a person who has been tested and has been confirmed to not have gonorrhea

Summary

Gonorrhea is a common sexually transmitted infection. It can be transmitted through sexual activity. Gonorrhea of the throat is also called pharyngeal gonorrhea. This is acquired through condomless oral sex with someone with this STI. Oral gonorrhea often doesn't cause symptoms, but some people may experience symptoms like a sore throat.

Treatment for gonorrhea involves an antibiotic injection. The best way to prevent oral gonorrhea is to refrain from having oral sex. Otherwise, using condoms or being in a monogamous, long-term relationship with someone who has not acquired gonorrhea can also prevent infection.

A Word From Verywell

Talking about sexually transmitted infections can be uncomfortable, but it is important to remember gonorrhea is common and not something to be embarrassed about. If you think you may have gonorrhea, it is important to reach out to a healthcare provider for help and support. They will be able to tell you what to do next.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long will it take gonorrhea to go away?

    With treatment, the symptoms of gonorrhea will typically clear up within a few days.

  • Is oral gonorrhea curable?

    Gonorrhea, including oral gonorrhea, is curable with the right treatment. However, increasingly, gonorrhea is becoming harder to treat due to antibiotic resistance.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gonorrhea.

  2. American Sexual Health Association. Gonorrhea: fast facts.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD risk and oral sex – CDC fact sheet.

  4. MedlinePlus. Gonorrhea test.

  5. NHS. Treatment - gonorrhoea.

  6. CDC. Partner Notification Services.